LONGUEUIL, QC, April 24 /CNW Telbec/ - When a mission to Mars is being developed, mission planners must consider many factors. Space technology advances, scientific needs and objectives, how to deal with distance, communications delays, and landing through the thin Martian atmosphere-all this must converge into a useful, workable mission concept. Canadian companies and researchers are part of an international drive to respond to these and other challenges.
Today, the Canadian Space Agency  announced the funding of five teams selected to develop their Mars mission concept proposals. Each team is entitled to a maximum of $250,000 to develop the concept of a scientific mission to Mars, including its moons.
Team members are scientists at universities and companies across Canada and their technologies and concepts include:
A radar satellite to study the geology of Mars
MDA of Richmond, British Columbia, will lead a team developing the concept of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite that could be used, much like Canada's RADARSAT-1 orbiting the Earth, to collect geological data of Mars. Subsequent missions to Mars could make use of the SAR data to determine, for example, the best landing sites, the best drilling sites and potential sources of water for future human exploration of the Red Planet.
A rover to search for water erosion and subsurface water that uses a retractable sky camera to see around obstacles.
MPB Communications of Montréal, Quebec, will lead a team to develop the concept of a Mars landed rover that will search for signs of water erosion and subsurface water sites, and possibly, find evidence of past or present life. The mission would use an innovative small rover equipped with a self-elevating, retractable sky camera. When deployed at an altitude of five to ten metres, the sky cam would provide a high-resolution view of the rover and surrounding terrain and provide critical navigation assistance for the rover to manoeuvre around obstacles. (Mission name: Inukshuk Canadian Mission to Mars)
An orbiter to study the composition and climate of the Martian atmosphere
A Canadian team led by Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will develop the concept of a detailed study of the composition and climate of the Martian atmosphere. Based on a suite of chemical, physical, and meteorological experiments aboard a Mars orbiter, this type of atmospheric research can reveal important aspects of the history, current state, and future of the planet. (Mission acronym: MC3M)
A nanosatellite mission to map Mars' remnant magnetic field in the south
The University of Toronto is leading a team to develop the concept of a low-cost nanosatellite, that is, a very small satellite that weighs between one and ten kilograms, to monitor the remnant magnetic field in the southern highlands of Mars. The probe would carry a magnetometer and fly at an altitude of 80 to 100 kilometres to gather data from which scientists will draft high accuracy magnetic maps. Ultimately, information captured by this nanosatellite could help scientists explain mysteries associated with the evolution and early tectonics of Mars. (Mission acronym: MOMENT for Magnetic Observations of Mars Enabled by Nanosatellite Technology)
A mission to learn more about the origin, composition, and structure of Phobos
Optech Inc. of Toronto, Ontario, will lead a team to develop a mission concept to explore Phobos, one of Mars' two moons. Phobos and Deimos are still largely unexplored despite many unanswered questions about their origin, composition, and structure. There is great potential in a mission of this type, given that it is much less expensive and complex to reach the moon than to explore the surface of Mars. (Mission acronym: PRIME for Phobos Reconnaissance and International Mars Exploration)
As we learn more about the evolution of Mars and compare it with that of Earth, we gain profound insight into the development of life-sustaining planets. The Red Planet's weathered surface may yield clues about the history of liquid water and life on Mars and provide evidence of any current microorganisms. Assessing the planet's habitability for possible human expedition crews is an equally important task for the survey of resources on Mars.
While the projects advance Canadian research on planetary exploration science and technology, they also help position Canada's space community among international mission developers. While there is no commitment to developing the proposals beyond the first phase, the Mars mission concepts will be evaluated further by the Agency.
As part of an ongoing consultation of the scientific and industrial communities to position Canada and Canadian expertise in future international mission to Mars, the Canadian Space Agency announced an opportunity to develop mission concepts. The Mars mission concepts will help define the role Canada may play and the scope of initiatives that may be undertaken in support of groundbreaking science. The Agency received twelve submissions, and the following five were selected for funding.